A Beginner's Guide to Alternative Milk

alt milk

Plant-based milk alternatives seem to be everywhere these days. Oat milk, almond milk, soy milk and other options are easily found anywhere from grocery stores to local coffee shops. In fact, according to the Good Food Institute, plant-based milks are consumed by nearly 40% of American households. So what’s all the hype about? 

Before we jump into these alternative options, let’s discuss the most widely used milk in the United States: cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is a good source of protein, calcium, vitamin B12, riboflavin and phosphorus. Additionally, most commercially available cow’s milk is fortified with vitamin D making it nutritionally robust. On the flip side, dairy products can provide a significant source of saturated fat, have a naturally high sugar content, do not provide any fiber and can contain unnecessary hormones. 

Whether you’re looking to make a switch to a more plant-based diet, have allergies or intolerances or have specific nutrition concerns, there are plenty of non-dairy options to choose from. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular on the market today. 

Almond Milk- creamy texture & nutty flavor; minimal protein & fiber; low in saturated fat; good source of vitamin E 

Recommendations

  • Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Unsweetened Almond Milk 
  • Elmhurst Milked Almonds 
  • Silk Original Almond Milk 

Oat Milk- creamy texture & mild oatmeal-like flavor; minimal protein; 1-3gm fiber/serving; low in saturated fat 

Recommendations

  • Oatly! Original Oat Milk 
  • Califia Farms Extra Creamy Oat Milk 
  • Elmhurst Unsweetened Oat Milk 

Soy Milk- creamy with mild nutty flavor; good source of protein & potassium; contains all of the essential amino acids; low in saturated fat; best plant-milk for baking & cooking 

Recommendations

  • Silk Unsweetened Soy Milk
  • Pacific Foods Organic Unsweetened Soy Milk 
  • Eden Foods Organic Original Soy Milk 

Flax Milk- moderately creamy with a nutty/earthy flavor; rich in omega-3 fatty acids, minimal protein 

Recommendations

  • Good Karma Unsweetened Flaxmilk + Protein 
  • Malibu Mylk Unsweetened Organic Flax Milk 

Rice Milk- thinner texture; naturally sweet taste; higher in sugar than other plant-based options; low in protein 

Recommendations: 

  • Rice Dream Original Rice Drink 
  • Trader Joe’s Organic Original Rice Drink 

If you’re thinking, “ok, this is great information, but I still don’t know what to buy”, you are not alone. With hundreds of plant-based milk alternatives on the shelves, it is important to read the nutrition facts label and ingredients list.

As a dietitian, here’s what I would be looking for in a plant-based milk alternative: 

  • Unsweetened. Many “original” varieties have a lot of added sugar. 
  • Fortified with at least calcium and vitamin D. Some may also have added protein & B vitamins. 
  • A short ingredient list. Try to avoid unnecessary stabilizers and additives; especially carrageenan. 
  • If possible, organic. 

Ultimately, there are a host of great plant-based milk options available these days. Your decision will depend on personal taste preference as well as nutritional needs. As always, for help choosing the best product for your own health considerations, be sure to speak to your Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN).

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